LAPLACE, La. — Off of busy Airline Highway, as drivers roll up to a gas station, there’s an all-out effort to get them to roll up their sleeves.
“We’ve been all across, all across the state,” said Torris Johnson, a community health worker supervisor.
On this day, Johnson is in LaPlace, Louisiana, in one of the so-called “River Parishes,” west of New Orleans. It’s a state where vaccine hesitancy is all too real.
“There’s still a lot of myths out there about the vaccine, about ‘It’s not a good thing’ and ‘it hasn’t been tested enough,’” Johnson said.
It’s a hard sell.
Officials say a general distrust of government may be partly to blame, along with a higher number of rural communities, and a combination of lower educational and income levels. According to the U.S. Census, about 20% of people in Louisiana live below the poverty line, the second-highest in all the nation.
Now, officials there are trying to sell residents on the vaccine, literally, with money.
They are trying all kinds of incentives to entice people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, from free entry into state parks to $100,000-a-week giveaways in July, and even a $1 million grand prize.
Still, it’s an uphill battle.
The problem isn’t just in Louisiana. In parts of the West, but mainly in the South, states are lagging in their vaccination numbers.
According to the Mayo Clinic, those with the lowest percentages of people who received one dose include Mississippi (35%), Louisiana (37%), Wyoming (38%), Alabama (39%) and Idaho (39%).
The numbers are even more dismal when it looks at how many are fully vaccinated against COVID, with many of those same states showing only a third or less of their residents are fully vaccinated: Mississippi (29%), Alabama (31%), Arkansas (33%), Louisiana (33%) and Wyoming( 33%).
Those low numbers are putting a damper on the country’s overall COVID vaccine rate. That’s casting real doubt the U.S. will reach President Biden’s goal of getting 70 percent of people at least one dose by the Fourth of July. Officials are already looking beyond that date.
“We’re going to continue to push vaccination beyond the Fourth of July, into the summer, so get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
For Torris Johnson, that will likely mean more on-the-ground vaccine efforts like the one in LaPlace.
“It’s just going to take all of our efforts, all of our combined efforts until we can until we finally get a handle on this thing,” Johnson said. “We’re still fighting an uphill battle, but we’re still fighting the good fight.”
It’s a team effort required from every state in the war against COVID-19.